Captain Fantastic (2016)


Food: In the spirit of this film, I will share about the camping meal I got to enjoy in Montauk over the weekend. All you need is to be able to BBQ over a fire. We roasted sausages (from the Union Square farmers market) and then wrapped them in prosciutto, placed inside a bun with mozzarella and added toppings to that. To accompany the hot dog, we had mixed greens salad with a balsamic dressing and tomato slices. We drank BlackBox boxed wine, which was delicious and cheap and perfect for camping.

Film: “Captain Fantastic” is a film about a family who live off the grid in the middle of the wilderness. They enjoy an alternative lifestyle of survivalists skills, copious amounts of reading, and living off the land. This appears to be working out well, until the mother passes away, and the father of the bandwagon, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortenson), is left to raise their six children on his own. In dealing with the postmortem arrangements, the children are exposed to the everyday society they have never been a part of, and their ideologies are put to the test.

This film is not immensely groundbreaking or Award winning, but it leaves a strong impact. When doing its job, it will have you grappling with your own way of life and questioning the forms of success that is revered in modern culture.

Director, Matt Ross, grew up in various communes throughout Oregon and Northern California, and though the film is not autobiographical, he felt that his own wrestling with parenthood became the genesis of this film. He makes a point of neither condoning nor condemning any of the choices made in the film, but displays them openly which allows the audience to examine them with a shield of gray. Ross noted, while speaking about the film when it premiered at Sundance, that he believes in writing the complexity of his characters and chooses to make sure that there are no stark villains or heroes. Instead, all characters are a fusion of both.

Beyond the exaggerated lifestyle choices as a whole, there are so many intricacies that are appreciable. “Captain Fantastic” showcases what has been overshadowed in present-day life. The children are taught with the intention to instill a high level of critical thinking, which is something that typical American schooling can lack. Ben asks one of his daughters what she is reading, and when he asks her to tell him about it, she says that it is “interesting.” Another child yells, “illegal word!” She, then, is asked to describe her thoughts on it, and not to rely on simply the plot. This is a small interaction, but it enlightens the audience into a form of parenting that is unique and compelling.

Further, the horde of kids are all taught how to hunt and skin an animal, to scale a cliff, to speak multiple languages, play instruments and more from a young age. (All the child actors in this picture prepped for filming with taxidermy, Esperanto, yoga, rock climbing and music lessons.) Without the distractions of technology and socialization, they develop these skills at a higher caliber than their age group. The film showcases these extraordinary children with their extraordinary set of skills, but then, through the perspectives of extended family, delivers the question: at what cost?

With a similar tone to the beloved “Little Miss Sunshine”(2006), “Captain Fantastic” is a predominantly light hearted and entertaining film. It is conversational. It will give audiences much to reflect upon – giving people the opportunity to ruminate on the fact that one can survive in Western society off of much less than we think, and what is left is the human experience. At the simplest level, human beings are created to sustain natural relationships with each other and with their environment. This means that everything else at the end of the day which is not necessary for survival, is, essentially, fluff. Therefore, how important the fluff is to us, is what we are left to ponder.

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